If your website sells stuff or promotes a service, the words you use have to be focused in a way that works in cyberspace. It’s totally different to writing a hard copy brochure or article.
For a start, your writing should be short (some people say make it short, then go back and edit it back 50% shorter again!), clear and benefits-focused. Below are links we’ve compiled to some knowledgeable people who explain it clearly.
Web copywriter Sally Jacobs gives a good overview in her article, A beginner’s guide to website copywriting. She emphasises:
- Writing for the web should be clear and concise so it can be scanned and read quickly
- Web copywriting should be organised into smaller chunks using sub-headings and bullet points to draw the readers’ attention and provide information quickly and efficiently
- The most important information should be at the attention-grabbing top of the page
- Keyword stuffing is not necessary, but keywords should appear regularly in your text and headings
- Hyperlinks are a valuable way to provide links to further information for interested readers without slowing down the reading process
- Web writing can be less formal and more conversational than other styles of writing
- Multimedia, such as graphic, photos and videos, can be used to enhance and illustrate your text to good effect.
Get rid of those weasel words
Weasel words, or what marketing strategist David Meerman Scott refers to as “empty language” or “gobbledegook”, are words that don’t really mean anything but often appear in web marketing copy because people think they sound impressive.
“Stop using clichés such as ‘innovative’ and ‘industry-leading’ in your profiles and updates,” he says. “Make sure your blog posts avoid describing how your ‘new and improved’ product was designed with the ‘latest technology.”’
Read more from Meerman Scott at Improve your copywriting with help from social media.
Ask where your customer is in the process
Depending on where your customer is in the buying or subscription process on your website, you run the risk of saying too much or too little, says Paul Cheney of MarketingExperiments.
Read more from Cheney at Optimizing copy: The 7 most common copywriting mistakes we see marketers make.
Be wary of saying too much when your customer is actually at a point where they just want to take action, but be similarly cautious about not giving them enough information to make a decision.
Cross Sea Strategy Advisors gives a good example of the first on their Think eBiz Blog: “For many site owners, there is an innate need to impart all of their company history, philosophy, processes and… often right there in one large content-dump on the homepage. Thus a great divide exists between what is wanted by the visitors and what is provided by the site owner.”
Refine your calls to action
If your customer is at the buying stage of the process, ‘action words’ or ‘power verbs’ (such as “buy now” or “click here to subscribe”) are often touted as the answer but Cheney says they can actually hurt the sale process.
He says research from MarketingExperiments (an internet-based research lab) indicates that focusing on the action you want your visitors to take can hurt sales conversions.
“It’s not about the action itself, it’s about the value they’re going to get as a result of taking that action,” he says.
In a research experiment, Cheney says they saw a 69% increase in conversion by changing “Sign up now” to “Get your feed now”; changing “Take a FREE trial” to “Get Instant Access Now” produced a 103% conversion uptake; and changing “Click here” to “Get free access” created a huge 201% improvement in conversion.
Speak to, and understand, your customers
Your website copy should speak to the people who want or need your product, not anyone else’s product.
The language you use will depend on who those people are. Robyn Federman, of U.S marketing firm Catalyst, tells MarketingExperiments’ Daniel Burstein that to do this you need to know your target audience “deeply and thoroughly”.
Read more from Burstein at Copywriting: how your peers write effective copy on short deadlines.
Marketing and research statistics are not enough, says Federman. Among other things he says that you need to know: “What keeps them up at night… Where they go to get information … What makes them laugh… What blogs they read… What they think of your brand…. What they think of your competition.”
Meerman Scott similarly suggests that you also “find your audience online and read what they’re writing about your industry.” He suggests you look at social media profiles, blogs, personal websites, chat rooms and message boards, and user-generated review sites.
“Study the language your customers use,” he says. “This is how you should be talking about your products.”
For example, he says, they’re probably never going to say ‘mission critical,’ and for that reason he suggests you don’t look to other industry websites to find out how to talk to your customers, as they are likely to contain the type of language you should avoid.
Find out what your customers want to do
Gerry McGovern, of Customer Carewords, says your customers are on your website to perform a task and you need to know what that is.
Read more from McGovern at Identifying top tasks: an introduction.
“They are there to do and they very much know what they want to do,” says McGovern. He says it is a mistake to assume customers are on your site to get information.
“Nobody cares about information for its own sake; except the creators of said information. The customer has a task they want to complete, a problem they want to solve. Information is only useful in the context of the task … Information is only useful if it helps customers complete tasks.”